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Defense Theory

New evidence in the Damien Echols case disputes Satanic ritual theory.



During the 1994 trials of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jesse Misskelley Jr. — collectively known as the West Memphis Three — there was a mystery that neither the prosecution nor the defense could explain.

Though the penis of Christopher Byers, one of three 8-year-old boys found hog-tied and murdered in a West Memphis ditch in 1993, was removed, there was no blood found at the scene.

In a 500-plus page document filed with the court October 29th, Echols' defense team attempts to explain the lack of blood. It also reports DNA results of hair and other material found at the crime scene.

"People look at this terrible genital injury and say, where's all the blood?" said Dennis Riordan, a San Francisco-based attorney who took Echols' case in May 2004. "But if [Byers] drowned before he was subjected to this wound, it wouldn't bleed."

The document suggests that the boys were drowned in a creek, and then an animal, perhaps a dog or raccoon, removed Byers' penis.

"Have you ever been at the scene where a dog has killed a person? There's no blood because, for the animal, that's the whole point," Riordan says.

Forensic pathology studies show that other wounds on the boys are consistent with those caused by animal claws and teeth.

During the trials, the prosecution suggested the murders of Byers, Stevie Branch, and Michael Moore were part of a Satanic ritual led by Echols. He was given the death penalty. Baldwin and Misskelley were both sentenced for life.

In July, news broke that DNA tests had linked hair in a shoelace used to hog-tie the boys to Terry Hobbs, Branch's stepfather. Another hair found on a nearby tree stump was linked to Hobbs' friend, David Jacoby.

In 2003, Echols' lawyers began DNA tests on existing evidence. Arkansas did not allow DNA testing on closed cases until 2001.

According to Gabe Holstrom, spokesperson for Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, it could take months for the state to study the report.

"While the state will look at the new allegations and evidence objectively, it stands behind the conviction of Echols and that of his co-defendants," Holstrom said.

Since the papers were filed in Echols' case, a new trial for Echols would not necessarily mean a new trial for Baldwin or Misskelley.

"But," Riordan says, "it would have a tremendous effect on what the state decides to do with the other two."

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